Regulations in the Indian drone industry have been a point of contention for several years now. Despite the country being home to many promising drone startups, the startups are unable to work in a full-fledged manner in the country because India lacked policies and regulations regarding the same.
December 2018 proved to be a turning point when the BJP-led Indian government and the Ministry of Civil Aviation announced drone regulations. Now, two Bengaluru-based startups got to be one of the first drone startups in India to have received a license to fly their drones.
Drone Industry In India
India has more than 70 drone startups. However, this industry is still considered as an emerging technology in which the funding is not consistent with innovation. In fact, according to a recent study, the total funding raised by drone startups in India from 2014 to 2018 was just $16.56 million. This amount covers only 2.26% of the total deep tech funding, which was $732 million.
India Certifies Its First Two Drones
For the first time since the new drone policy was passed in December last year, two drone startups got certified by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA). The startups are Skylark Drones and Throttle Aerospace, both of which are based out of Bengaluru. Both the drone startups fall under the category of visual line of sight (VLOS) which demands that the drones be in the view limits of the operator.
This is the first time that has been given to drone startups, under the new drone policy called the Digital Sky. The motive of this drone policy is to facilitate the use of drones for commercial purposes and to provide checks to the companies that make use of drone applications.
About Certified Drones
Started in the year 2014, Skylark Drones has web-based analytical platforms to transform survey grade drone maps and digital elevation models to be used for detailed project reports, feasibility studies and project planning. They help in detailed project reports, feasibility studies and project planning through their web-based and help companies understand defects with information layers such as high-resolution drone videography, thermal analysis and other asset lifecycle modelling tools using their analytical platforms. They are also experts in drone videography and photography. According to Mrinal Pai the Co-Founder of Skylark Drones, the certification will allow the startup to become a provider of the NP-NT module. The startup is already in talks with other drone manufacturers in China and the UK to use their solution to get drones partially certified.
Started in the same year as Skylark Drones, Throttle Aerospace was formed by a team of young entrepreneurs with over 15 years of knowledge in engineering, manufacturing & supply chain carried from global Aerospace and Defence industries. They provide solutions from design to manufacturing. The startup is already working with clients such as the Ministry of Defence, HAL and Wipro.
India’s Drone Policy
In December 2018, India finally released its first drone policy. The main objective of this policy was to regulate the flying of drones by civilians. Drone policy had become very important because civilians were using it in an unregulated manner, and were causing accidents.
The new drone policy by the Government has five categories of drones based on their weights and each category has a different set of rules. Following are the categories with their weights that fall under the drone policy:
1.Nano: Less than or equal to 250 grams. This category does not need any license to fly and is not allowed to fly beyond 50 feet.
2.Micro: Greater than 250 grams and less than or equal to 2 kilograms.
3.Small: Greater than 2 kilograms and less than or equal to 25 kilograms.
4.Medium: Greater than 25 kilograms and less than or equal to 150 kilograms.
5.Large: Greater than 150 kilograms.
According to the policy, the person who flies the drone has to be at least 18 years old and should have at least studied till Class X.
The policy states that all the drones must be within the sight of the pilot. Additionally, the drones will only be allowed to fly during the day time. It also does not allow them to be operated from a moving vehicle.
According to the policy, drones cannot fly in certain areas. Some of them are the following:
1.25 kilometres from International Border, which includes Line of Control (LoC), Line of Actual Control (LAC) and Actual Ground Position Line (AGPL)
2.5 kilometres from the perimeter of airports in Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai, Kolkata, Bengaluru and Hyderabad and from the radius of Vijay Chowk in Delhi.
3.3 kilometres from the perimeter of any military installations, military facilities, any defence, civil and private airport and the radius of State Secretariat Complex in State Capitals.
4.Over eco-sensitive zones around national parks and wildlife Sanctuaries notified by Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change without prior permission.
5.Beyond 500 meters into the sea from a coastline.
Licence To Fly Drones
The drones made in India and the ones imported from outside the country have a difference in licences. These licences are issued by the DoT.
The licences required to fly any drone other than the nano drones in India can be of the following two types. These licences are not required when one wants to fly a drone below 200 feet, but he has to inform the police before flying:
1.Unique Identification Number (UIN): Drones are required to have a unique identification number (UIN). The fee for a fresh UIN is ₹1,000.
2.Unmanned Aircraft Operator Permit (UAOP): Drone operators are required to obtain an UAOP. The fee for a fresh UAOP is ₹25,000. It is valid for 5 years.
The regulations being made for the drone startups in India is definitely a good way to check up on their applications being safe. The demand for this technology has risen, and we have many startups that have to potential to cater to the demand.
However, the drone policy that we currently have also had a number of drawbacks. It lacks the guidelines to scale up operations and avoid the misuse of drones. Nano drones do not have strict rules and there are no laws to keep an eye on they being misused. Although the micro category drones demand to inform the police before flying them, there is no centralised way to monitor that this is being followed. The current policy also does not take into account technologies like AI and the negative power that it might have when used inappropriately. It does not account for how the data collected by the drones is shared.
A stricter set of policies would benefit the country and help in critical situations like disaster management.
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